'Amazon effect' shreds The Book People

PwC is handling the administration of The Book People, a long-established book supplier, which has collapsed in the run-up to Christmas, putting some 400 jobs at risk

Toby Underwood and Zelf Hussain, partners at PwC, have been appointed joint administrators of The Book People Ltd.

Founded in 1988 by Ted Smart and Seni Glaister, the business is primarily an online retailer, with over 76% of sales through its online platform with the balance of sales via employed and self-employed distributors who deliver mobile book school fairs and buses, and is best known for its pop-up shops in offices, hospitals and work places, where it sells discounted books from kids' favourites to the latest cookbooks.

The business has an annual turnover in excess of £50m, employs 393 staff and sells over 17m children’s books each year – approximately three books for every child of primary school age in the UK. The head office is based in Godalming, Surrey, and the business operates a 92,000 square foot warehouse in Bangor, North Wales, handling customer deliveries.

PwC said the appointment of administrators is a result of the difficult trading environment, combined with increasing working capital pressures. It was also struggling to compete with the ‘Amazon effect’ and had rebranded the business over the summer.

The Book People has been owned by private equity investor Endless since 2014 and had two changes of CEO in the last three years. The most recent filing at Companies House shows sales in 2017 were £71.5m, with profit before tax of £1.2m. The business has yet to report its 2018 numbers. Its accounts also reference some £2m of lending from Endless, which was set to renew at the end of October.

Toby Underwood, restructuring partner for PwC, and joint administrator, said: ‘The business continues to trade and at this point in time no redundancies are currently envisaged whilst we rapidly explore a sale of the business. The intention is to fulfil and deliver all customer orders received and accepted. 

‘I appreciate the obvious concerns that staff in particular will have as we move towards Christmas. Whilst the administrators have funding to meet the payroll for December, the longer-term prospects for the business, staff, customers and suppliers will clearly be dependent upon whether a sale can be secured.’

Additional reporting Sara White

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